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Advice for writers

Writing Fictional Fathers

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Tips for Creating Memorable and Complex Father Characters in Your Stories

Father characters can be some of the most compelling figures in literature, playing pivotal roles as pillars of strength, sources of wisdom, or, in some cases, complex figures with their own sets of flaws and struggles. Writing fathers that are believable and memorable demands a delicate balance of understanding their roles, motivations, and relationships within the story.

Understanding the Role of Fathers in Stories

Father characters can fulfill a range of roles in your narrative. They might be protectors, mentors, antagonists, or even the heart of the story. The key is to make them multidimensional and realistic. Let’s delve into how you can achieve this.

Define Their Motivations and Goals

Every character should have clear motivations and goals, and father characters are no exception. Ask yourself: What drives this father? What are his hopes, fears, and dreams for his children? For example, in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is driven by his deep sense of justice and desire to instill these values in his children. His motivations make him a strong, admirable character.

writing fathers in fiction - atticus finch to kill a mockingbird

Show Their Strengths and Flaws

No one is perfect, and the same goes for fictional fathers. Showing both their strengths and flaws makes them more relatable and human. Consider Mr. Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. While he is wise and caring, his sarcasm and detachment also highlight his imperfections, making him a well-rounded character.

writing fathers in fiction - mr bennet pride and prejudice

Building Depth and Complexity

Creating a memorable father character involves layering their personality, backstory, and relationships.

Develop a Rich Backstory

Understanding your character’s past can provide valuable insights into their present behavior and attitudes. What experiences shaped them as fathers? In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Baba’s complex past and his experiences in Afghanistan deeply influence his relationship with his son, Amir. His backstory adds depth to his character and drives much of the plot’s emotional weight.

baba from the kite runner

Explore Their Relationships

A father’s interactions with other characters, especially their children, are crucial to their development. Show a range of emotions and interactions—love, conflict, disappointment, pride. In The Road by Cormac McCarthy, the father-son relationship is the story’s core, depicting a profound bond in a post-apocalyptic world. Their interactions reveal both the father’s protective nature and his vulnerabilities.

Techniques for Writing Fathers

To bring your father characters to life, consider these practical writing techniques:

Use Dialogue to Reveal Character

Dialogue is a powerful tool for showing character traits and dynamics. A father’s words can reveal his values, concerns, and personality. For example, in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Arthur Weasley’s dialogue often reflects his curiosity and affection for his children, contrasting with the stricter, more authoritarian Lucius Malfoy.

Show, Don’t Tell

Instead of telling readers that a father is loving or strict, show it through actions and interactions. A father who fixes his child’s broken toy at midnight shows his dedication more effectively than merely stating it. This approach makes the character’s traits more vivid and believable.

Incorporate Realistic Struggles

Fathers, like all characters, face struggles. These can be internal conflicts, such as doubts about their parenting, or external challenges, like financial pressures or societal expectations. Highlighting these struggles adds realism and relatability. In Fences by August Wilson, Troy Maxson’s struggles with his past and his limitations impact his relationship with his son, offering a raw and authentic portrayal of fatherhood.

Examples of Memorable Fictional Fathers

To illustrate these points, let’s look at some memorable father characters in fiction:

Graham in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: Graham’s relationship with his son Christopher, who has autism, is characterized by patience, understanding, and unwavering support. His efforts to connect with Christopher despite their communication barriers add depth and poignancy to the narrative.

Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter series: Arthur’s fascination with Muggle artifacts and his nurturing nature provide warmth and humor. His interactions with his children and Harry highlight his supportive and caring personality.

Baba in The Kite Runner: Baba’s complex personality, marked by his strong moral code and deep-seated guilt, shapes his relationship with Amir. His strengths and flaws make him a deeply compelling character.

Resources for Writing Fathers in Fiction

To deepen your understanding of crafting father characters, consider these resources:

Books: The Art of Character by David Corbett and Creating Characters: The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction by Dwight V. Swain offer comprehensive advice on character development.

Online Workshops: Websites like Writer’s Digest and MasterClass offer courses specifically focused on character development and writing authentic relationships.

Writing Communities: Engaging with writing communities, such as Scribophile or the NaNoWriMo forums, can provide feedback and support as you develop your father characters.

At Atmosphere Press, we understand the intricacies of character development and the importance of creating believable, nuanced characters. Our team of experienced editors and publishing professionals is dedicated to helping authors refine their work and bring their stories to life. Whether you need guidance on character development, structural editing, or marketing your book, we’re here to support you every step of the way.

Writing fictional fathers who are memorable and complex requires a thoughtful approach to their motivations, relationships, and personal struggles. By creating well-rounded characters who embody both strengths and flaws, you can craft father figures that resonate deeply with readers. Remember to draw inspiration from real-life experiences, literature, and the rich array of resources available to writers. In the end, the goal is to create father characters who are not only believable but also integral to your story’s emotional core. Happy writing!

EKB author photo 1

Erin K. Larson-Burnett, Production Manager at Atmosphere Press (submit your manuscript here!), is a born-and-raised Southerner currently living in Katy, Texas, with her husband and their small domestic zoo. She is an avid ink drinker who lives and breathes books—during the day, she works remotely with authors around the world, honing and perfecting books published through Atmosphere Press. By night, she crafts her own stories…or at least tries to. The Bear & the Rose is her debut novel.

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Atmosphere Press is a selective hybrid publisher founded in 2015 on the principles of Honesty, Transparency, Professionalism, Kindness, and Making Your Book Awesome. Our books have won dozens of awards and sold tens of thousands of copies. If you’re interested in learning more, or seeking publication for your own work, please explore the links below.